Flipping the script

Asher Roth
In addition to working on new music, Philly-based musician and activist Asher Roth has been instrumental in the revitalization of a once-blighted section of North Philly, now turned into a community hub for all things arts. | Image: Kerith Gabriel

If you listen to Asher Roth today and recall him simply as the liquor-spilling, weed-smoking frat-rapper who would’ve probably stolen your girlfriend at a basement party back in the day, then you’ll assuredly be confused with his latest album release, 2020’s “Flowers on the Weekend.”

Roth has traded in lyrics about the beer-bonging days that made him a sensation for ones that take a look at feminism, politics and the state of a nation, which seem unfit for a guy who once spit a bar about time never being wasted when you are wasted

But in the years since his debut album and its hit single “I Love College” spun across the airwaves, Roth very quietly – and strategically – removed himself from the limelight, leaving a mega record label in a decision to go independent.

Residing in North Philadelphia, Roth, 34, has been an integral part of the underground arts community, working in a collaborative effort to create Sunflower Hill, the bunker-like arts space along a corridor of Cecil B. Moore Street that has become a hub for artists, musicians, writers and others to showcase their skills to the community. He’s also been an outspoken critic of the rampant development and subsequent gentrification and has strived to use the space as a tool to bridge the divide between residents, old and new.

Asher Roth’s latest album “Flowers on the Weekend” is a far cry from his earlier sound that put him on the map. He’s 100 percent OK with that. | Image provided

Roth says “Flowers on the Weekend” was a labor of love project two years in the making working with Retrohash Records and longtime friend and producer Rob Deckhart. When Roth very quietly released this latest album in April, as he explains, it was more due to the lack of marketing and pomp that comes with being a part of a major record label like Universal, which produced his 2009 debut album “Asleep in the Bread Aisle.”

But ask him and Roth will say for him, releasing this music in this manner is more authentic than perhaps anything he’s done previously. 

“I’m in an interesting position because I’m not part of the music industry anymore,” Roth said in a recent interview with Philadelphia Weekly. “When you’re signed to a record label, there are just a lot of things that come along with that. Marketing, press promotion, all that stuff is kind of built into a record contract. So when you’re not part of that and you’re doing it on your own, you rely so much on relationships.”

Accurately described by Roth as a “Benjamin Button” experience, he might be one of the few artists who view what his career was through a fishbowl. Once at the top of the heap and holding rap down as a fun-loving party guy, today he’s OK with being an outsider – albeit one still with ties to that world, indicative of getting rapper Lil Yachty to drop a verse on his latest endeavor.

“Having my first experience making an album be a release on a major label, you just don’t know any better and think that every experience moving forward is going to be like that one,” Roth said. “So there are definitely things I took for granted. I thought things would happen as fast and, yeah man, they just don’t. Things don’t move while you sleep when you go independent. And on top of it, when you wake up you’ll put something out and it won’t get the traction you want. To do all the work and have it feel like nobody cares, it can be disheartening, but at the same time it’s oddly rewarding because it’s your hustle, not someone else’s on your behalf.” 

The impetus of “Flowers on the Weekend” hearkens a bit to Roth’s earlier days as he described the lead-up as standard Wednesday brainstorming sessions with Deckheart, drinking Modelo and talking shop. Roth said much of the inspiration from those meetings led to tracks on his latest album as the two formed a camaraderie fueled by both being Philly-area natives who attended the same high school and their love for fusing world issues into song lyrics. 

“For me, if other people aren’t, like, really excited about what you’re doing, it doesn’t really get off the ground,” said Roth. “Rob and I share the same values and we care about the same things. That kind of authenticity is rare and important. Look, when it comes to your music, no one’s going to care more than you. But it’s important to find people who naturally support what you’re doing because they want to, not because they have to. I feel fortunate to have that.” 

““I think this project is a strong commitment to a core audience. People grow up, people have children, financial matters become a bit more real, you know? There are responsibilities now.”

Philadelphia-based artist and activist Asher Roth

Roth is readily aware that “Flowers on the Weekend” is not going to be for everyone, especially people who related to his hero days as the icon for what college life should look like. This new sound is a far cry from that, and Roth agreed that only loyalists who have followed him in the aftermath of “Asleep in the Bread Aisle” will understand this newfound direction. 

But he also notes that the people who know what he’s up to today as an artist and activist in a community in which he’s “fallen in love with,” will understand that this is the grown-up Asher Roth, the one that hopes you can vibe to this new album but is totally OK if you don’t. 

“I think this project is a strong commitment to a core audience,” Roth said. “People grow up, people have children, financial matters become a bit more real, you know? There are responsibilities now. As I grow up, I realize more that audiences have their own expectations or their own definition of success and the stuff you do isn’t going to fit into everyone’s bucket. But I’m really proud of this project, I hope people listen and put away all the old shit they know about me, listen to what I’m dropping now and can vibe to it. If that happens for some new people, then, to me, this was a win.” 

Listen to Asher Roth’s new album “Flowers on the Weekend” on Spotify and YouTube Music.

  • Kerith Gabriel's Headshot

    Kerith Gabriel is the former editor-in-chief at Philadelphia Weekly but somehow hasn’t figured out that means he doesn’t have to write nearly as much. As a routine contributor, journalism has been in his blood since his beginnings as a sports writer over a decade ago for the Philadelphia Daily News.

More Popular Articles

Upcoming Philly Events